WASHINGTON: The US State Department has approved the sale of an anti-missile defence system to Saudi Arabia at an estimated cost of $15 billion to enhance the kingdom’s military capabilities, the Pentagon announced.
The approval opens the way for Saudi Arabia to purchase 44 Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) launchers and 360 missiles, as well as fire control stations and radars.
This sale, valued at up to $15 billion, is part of the $110 Billion package of defence equipment and services initially announced during President Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia in May trip to this year.
“It furthers US national security and foreign policy interests and supports the long–term security of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region in the face of Iranian and other regional threats,” the Pentagon’s Defence Security Cooperation Agency said in a statement released on Friday afternoon.
Earlier this year, the United States deployed Thaad to South Korea to guard against North Korea’s shorter-range missiles.
Iran strongly opposes US arms sales to Saudi Arabia, arguing that it upsets the balance of power in the region. The Iranians say that Thaad’s powerful radar can probe deep into its territory.
Iran also accuses Saudi Arabia of using US-supplied weapons against both civilian and military targets in Yemen. But Saudi Arabia and the US have rejected Iran’s objections, arguing that such deployments were necessary to counter Iran’s Iran’s aggressive behaviour in the region.
Saudi Arabia claims that Iran already has one of the biggest ballistic missile programmes in the Middle East, forcing others in the region to take precautionary measures.
On Thursday, Saudi Arabia announced that it was also buying S-400 surface-to-air missile systems from Russia, a deal concluding during King Salman’s visit to Russia this week, the first by a Saudi monarch.
The Pentagon said the proposed sale of Thaad missiles to Saudi Arabia will “substantially increase Saudi Arabia’s capability to defend itself against the growing ballistic missile threat in the region. THAAD’s exo-atmospheric, hit-to-kill capability will add an upper-tier to Saudi Arabia’s layered missile defence architecture and will support modernisation of the Royal Saudi Air Defence Force (RSADF).”
Separately, the Pentagon informed Congress Saudi Arabia will have no difficulty absorbing this equipment into its armed forces and the proposed sale “will not alter the basic military balance in the region.”
The principal contractors for the THAAD system are Lockheed Martin Space Systems Corporation.